Notes from the Edge 02-27-2024

Fort Drum NY

My Home Town

Fort Drum

Fort drum is the nearby military base (U. S. ARMY) to me: As in just a few hundred feet away from my house. The Tug Hill Plateau adjoins it and that adjoins millions of acres of Forever Wild Lands that extend from Northern New York far into Southern New York. I live in a tiny village of a few hundred people; the closest city is about seven miles away, and small for a city: In fact, this whole area probably would have slipped into oblivion years ago if not for the base, which also happens to be the largest military winter training facility in the world.

The ARMYs 10th Mountain division is stationed here yes, the same men and women who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq for years now and will be coming home for good very soon.

In 1907 the Black River Great bend area was first used by the NY Guard for summer maneuvers as Camp Hughes. In 1908, Brigadier General Frederick Dent Grant, son of General Ulysses S. Grant, was sent there with 2,000 regulars and 8,000 militia. He found Pine Plains to be an ideal place to train troops. The following year money was allocated to purchase the land and summer training continued there through the years. With the outbreak of WWII, the area then known as Pine Camp was selected for a major expansion and an additional 75,000 acres of land was purchased. By Labor Day 1941, 100 tracts of land were taken over. Contractors then went to work, and in a period of 10 months at a cost of $20 million, an entire city was built to house the divisions scheduled to train here. Eight hundred buildings were constructed; 240 barracks, 84 mess halls, 86 storehouses, 58 warehouses, 27 officers’ quarters, 22 headquarters buildings, and 99 recreational buildings as well as guardhouses and a hospital. The three divisions to train at Pine Camp were General George S. Patton’s 4th Armored Division (Gen. Creighton Abrams was a battalion commander here at the time), the 45th Infantry Division and the 5th Armored Division. The post also served as a prisoner of war camp.

Pine Camp became Camp Drum in 1951, named after Lt. Gen. Hugh A. Drum who commanded the First Army during World War II. Camp Drum was designated Fort Drum in 1974 and a permanent garrison was assigned. In January 1984, the Department of the Army announced it was studying selected Army posts to house a new light infantry division, the 10th Mountain Division. Fort Drum was chosen and has been reaffirmed as the division’s home base a few times since then.

Originally activated as the 10th Light Division (Alpine) in 1943, the division was re-designated the 10th Mountain Division in 1944 and fought in the mountains of Italy in some of the roughest terrain in World War II. On 5 May 1945 the Division reached Nauders, Austria, beyond the Resia Pass, where it made contact with German forces being pushed south by the U.S. Seventh Army. A status quo was maintained until the enemy headquarters involved had completed their surrender to the Seventh. On 6 May, 10th Mountain troops met the 44th Infantry Division of Seventh Army.

Following the war, the division was deactivated, only to be reactivated and re-designated as the 10th Infantry Division in 1948. The division first acted as a training division and, in 1954, was converted to a full combat division and sent to Germany before being deactivated again in 1958.

Reactivated again in 1985, the division was designated the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) to historically tie it to the World War II division and to also better describe its modern disposition. Since its reactivation, the division or elements of the division have deployed numerous times. The division has participated in Operation Desert Storm (Saudi Arabia), Hurricane Andrew disaster relief (Homestead, Florida), Operation Restore Hope and Operation Continue Hope (Somalia), Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti), Operation Joint Forge (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Operation Joint Guardian (Kosovo), and several deployments as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (Sinai Peninsula).

Since 2001, the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) has been the most deployed unit in the US military. Its combat brigades have seen over 20 deployments, to both Iraq and Afghanistan, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

When records speak of land acquisition for the base, they omit some things. First, we’ll go back a way. Joseph Bonaparte had himself smuggled into New York. This is the older brother of Napoleon. Eventually he purchased large tracts of land in upstate New York in 1818, some 150.000 acres.

The towns of Wilna and LeRay were included in these tracts. By 1819 he established a land office in Carthage New York (About ten miles from my home). He acquired another 150.000 acres encompassing most of the North Country as we know it now, and set his headquarters up in Natural Bridge, just a few miles away from me. He built a huge mansion in that area as well and resided there for many years with a mistress that lived there for many years after he had left and could often be seen walking along the road.

When the military annexed the land to enlarge the base, they purchased the entire village of LeRay including the mansion (Pictured above). The entire village, farms, homes, roads, and township line were moved. The old village, farms and roads have been used for military maneuvers since that time. The Mansion was restored and is used to house visiting dignitaries to the base.

As a young boy, 10 or 11, I would spend my weekends at the base selling newspapers along with my friends. The barracks were full back then, young G.I.s from all over the country. They would buy every paper we had just because they were bored, and they wanted any news from anywhere. Most of those young soldiers would soon be bound for Vietnam. We would pile into a neighborhood man’s pickup truck and he would load us up with papers and drive us out to the base, then Camp Drum. Past the gate/entrance without slowing and then turned loose to wander the entire area freely.

In my twenties I drove Taxi and Fort Drum was the destination of choice for most of my passengers. The weekends were full of either picking up soldiers or dropping them off. The base was wide open. The main entrance then was one that still exists just down the road from me but is not used any longer. There might be a guard in the guard house as you entered the base, but they would just wave you through, no problem.

Later in my 30s I would go digging for bottles on the base. You had to check into the base commander’s office to let them know you were there, and approximately where you would be, and that was it. I would search the old roads, houses and farms. I had quite a collection before long: All sorts of old bottles and other artifacts from the former town of LeRay.

I was away from this area for decades. Now the base is much larger. The entrance has been moved several miles away, and the entrance near me is closed. You are no longer able to enter the base unless you are stationed there or a civilian who works there, and I’m sure there are no little kids selling newspapers. I have not driven Taxi in decades, and I know no-one from that life, so I’m unsure what they have to do for clearance, and or access to the base, and I’m positive no-one is digging for artifacts in what used to be the old town of LeRay.

I hope you enjoyed this short history. I have lived my entire life around this base, and it is what keeps the economic engine running here in Upstate New York.


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Author: Dello

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